Team Preview: Richard Childress Racing
By: John Singler - @JohnSingler2 on February 10, 2014 | 12:00 P.M. EST
(L to R) RCR drivers: Ryan Newman (No. 31), Paul Menard (No. 27 ) and Austin Dillon (No. 3). (Photo: Getty Images)
With a blend of new drivers and returning crew chiefs, Richard Childress Racing steps into the 2014 season with high hopes of ending the organization’s 20-year Sprint Cup Series championship drought.
Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt won the last of his record seven titles in 1994. It falls on the shoulders of Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard to carry RCR back to the top of NASCAR’s premier national series.
Dillon embarks on his rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series after winning the 2013 Nationwide Series championship and a Camping World Truck Series crown two years before. He has aspirations of joining his more experienced teammates in a fairly exclusive group later in the season. Both Newman and Menard are past winners of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, Newman in 2013 and Menard in 2011. Only 10 other drivers have their names etched on that trophy.
Team: Richard Childress Racing
Drivers: Austin Dillon (No. 3 Chevrolet), Paul Menard (No. 27 Chevrolet), Ryan Newman (No. 31 Chevrolet)
Crew Chiefs: Gil Martin (Dillon), Richard “Slugger” Labbe (Menard), Luke Lambert (Newman)
3 – This is the obvious one. After winning a Nationwide Series championship in 2013, Dillon has moved up to the Sprint Cup Series to drive the iconic “No. 3.” This marks the first time that number has been run in NASCAR’s top series since 2001, when Dale Earnhardt lost his life in a last-lap crash in the season-opening Daytona 500.
10 – Newman finished in the top 10 in Cup Series points in his first full season with Team Penske, in 2002, and again in his first year at Stewart-Haas in 2009. Similar success this season would put the No. 31 team in the top 10 for the first time since 2008.
20 … years since RCR’s last Cup Series championship, a dry spell the team owner calls “disappointing.”
What’s New: In addition to the return of the No. 3 to Cup Series competition, it’s a vastly different driver lineup that’ll carry the RCR banner into NASCAR’s 66th season. With Kevin Harvick’s move to Stewart-Haas Racing, Dillon – grandson of team owner Richard Childress – fills that spot.
General Mills’ Cheerios brand will kick off the season with a special box featuring the history of the No. 3 in NASCAR’s top series – available in Kroger stores later this week.
Jeff Burton is out and Ryan Newman is in behind the wheel of the No. 31 Chevrolet. Newman joins the team after wrapping up his stint at Stewart-Haas Racing, where he finished 11th in the 2013 Chase after recording a signature win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
What They’re Saying
Menard, the lone member of the current RCR Sprint Cup Series driver lineup who was with the team in 2013: “Our No. 1 goal is to make the Chase. That’s what we’ve said the last few years but now with the different rules, it’s even more important. This year’s our year to do it.”
Menard and crew chief Labbe are starting their fourth season together at RCR. Said Menard: “We trust each other. There’s a comfort level there and we balance each other personality-wise. Those are the main reasons we’ve been together as long as we have.”
Newman: “I have nothing to prove this year other than achieving my goal of winning the Sprint Cup championship. This is the first time in my career that I’ve been paired up with an organization and team that’s already established. When I started at (Team) Penske, we built the team. At Stewart-Haas, we brought an existing team over and pieced a bunch of guys together.”
Dillon: “When I began racing, I wanted to drive the No. 3 because that was the number my grandfather raced before Dale Earnhardt made it famous. It’s a special number for our family.”
Keys to Season
One of the things to watch will be how quickly Newman and Lambert get onto the same page once racing begins. Newman’s adjusting to a new team and Lambert, who worked with Burton last year, is adjusting to a new driver. Common ground comes in the fact that both have engineering backgrounds, with Newman earning a degree from Purdue University.
They’ll get a head start on that process later this week with Newman one of the drivers eligible for Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. The non-points race features pole winners from the 2013 season. Newman won two last year, at Indianapolis and New Hampshire.
For Dillon, just 23 years old, he’ll have to manage the considerable pressure of climbing behind the wheel of that No. 3 Chevrolet in NASCAR’s top series. Along with that comes his bid for Rookie of the Year honors, where he’s going up against what is arguably one of the strongest freshman classes in recent years.
Dillon’s championship mettle is obvious, with titles in two of NASCAR’s top three series since 2011. But in addition to the challenge of driving the No. 3 car and battling a strong rookie class, he’ll also have to manage the pressure that comes with competing for his grandfather’s team.
Menard and Labbe teaming up to win the 2011 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis seems like a long time ago. Both readily admit that the focus for 2014 is to keep searching for that spark that’ll carry them back to Victory Lane and a spot in the post-season Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Newman was awarded his spot in the 2013 post-season after Michael Waltrip Racing’s ill-timed manipulation in the regular-season finale forced Martin Truex Jr. to the sidelines. Newman is eager to race his way in this season, getting the RCR portion of his career off to a good start with a championship bid.
In addition to its three-car Sprint Cup Series lineup, RCR also will field three full-time entries in the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series for Ty Dillon (Austin’s younger brother), Brian Scott and Brendan Gaughan.